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City council approves sales tax ballot question

WALSENBURG — With two-thirds of the members present, the Walsenburg City Council Tuesday night voted unanimously to put a sales and use tax increase before city voters in November. Council passed Ordinance #1044 on first reading that will ask voters in the November General Election a yes or no question regarding a one percent increase in the sales and use tax. The text of the ballot question approved was; “Shall the City of Walsenburg, Colorado sale and use tax be increased annually by approximately $352,000 by increasing the sale and use tax rate one (1.00) percent from three (3.00) to a total of four (4.00) percent for the purpose of offsetting general fund expenses with the tax increase sunsetting and ending at midnight December 31, 2019.” Council members Silvana Lind, Nick Vigil, Mayor Jim Eccher, Cathy Pineda, Craig Lessar and Clint Boehler voted in favor of the ordinance. Council members Rick Jennings, James Baca and Charles Montoya did not attend the meeting. Walsenburg voters have, in recent years, turned down council’s

requests for mil levy increases and Mayor Eccher said the sales and use tax question is the most equitable for residents, as the cost would be borne by not only by those who live in the city, but all those who visit here and make purchases subject to city sales taxes. The current city sales tax rate is three percent, but of that only one percent actually comes in for use in the city’s General Fund. One percent is limited for use in Capital Improvements and the other one percent is dedicated for Street Improvements. Eccher said material supplied by administration shows an increase of one percent in the sales and use tax would not be out of line with other small cities in the region who do not have any large manufacturing base. It is expected individual council members who support the tax increase will begin ‘talking up’ the issue with constituents and a group outside of city council, may, at some point in the fall, schedule public meetings to disseminate information on the issue. The city is forbidden by law to spend any money or use municipal resources to promote the issue. The city’s General Fund has been upside down for some time and it is hoped, if voters support the tax issue this year, some fiscal relief could be in the Walsenburg’s future. Mayor Eccher said his personal priorities, if the measure is approved, include trying to pay down the city’s state debt and to eliminate the across-the-board ten percent pay cut municipal employees have had to endure in the current budget year. The ordinance approved on first reading July 1, 2014, does not dedicate any specific use of the one percent increase, meaning the funds, if the measure is approved, would flow into the General Fund and be used to offset General Fund expenses. City council is expected to discuss and prioritize where the money could best be used in future finance committee meetings prior to election day. It is important to note the ordinance does have an automatic sunset date, meaning that without another ballot issue, the tax would end at the end of the year in 2019. The full text of the ordinance is published in the legal section of today’s Huerfano World Journal. In finance committee discussions of the proposed tax increase, an interesting question was brought up by a concerned citizen, who asked what the city’s plan ‘B’ might be if the issue failed in November? The general consensus of council membership seem to feel the only other way to raise money would be another increase in water and sewer fees, that none of the elected officials or administration would like to see happen. The city council, prior to their regular meeting, sat as the Northland General Improvement District Board of Directors and unanimously passed Resolution 2014-NLGID-R-02 that approves implementing the Northlands Public Improvement Fee, a 1.45 PIF charged to certain purchases from Northlands businesses, that will be used to assist the general improvement district in making some principal and interest payments required in the USDA loan agreement. It is anticipated the PIF will begin to be collected later this summer.